A Day in the Life during the Middle School Years
As the sun rises above the evergreen trees, signaling a new day at the Oak, our oldest and wisest of Oakers, the Bears, who fall in the 11-14 year age band, saunter up the gravel path to casually enter their classroom to greet classmates and teachers eager to begin another day of self-directed learning and discovery. They handle their morning routines independently, which include hanging up their belongings, checking the class mailbox that may contain suggestions for improvement of our school community by younger classes for our 5th - 8th graders to take into consideration as the governing student body, and answering the Question of the Day. There is no one right answer to the QOD as it is meant to encourage deep thinking, support multiple intelligences, and provoke conversation at Morning Meeting. The QOD is typically mathematical in nature, in preparation for the first core skills block of the day, Math Investigations, when students build their foundational skills through open-ended math games, numerical inquiry, as well as shared reading and writing.
Everyone looks forward to Morning Gathering as a respectful time given to discuss ideas, share problem solving strategies, set intentions for the day, build community and enjoy a mindful moment together. QOD thoughts can be shared. Stories and dreams from the evening before can be shared. New questions to add to the Wondering Wall can be documented and shared. Plans for the next step of student projects can be shared. There is no set agenda and no rush.
With new ideas swirling in their heads, the Bears are buzzing with enthusiasm for Project Time. This provides opportunity and time for the children to continue working on learning goals that they have set for themselves and 'passions' that they want to learn more about and/or advocate for. At the beginning of each new season, students have a one-on-one mentor meeting with one of their teachers to discuss their interests, questions, and wonderings. Through their discussion together, but mainly driven by the student, a project will be developed. Since stewardship is central to our school mission, many projects have a driving question that strives to fulfill a community need. Projects take advantage of the people, the resources, and the landscape around us. A list of foundational skills that can be developed over the course of the project, such as persuasive writing, identifying patterns, or telling time, for example, will also be generated. This way basic skills that the children need to continue building up their knowledge base will be embedded in their self-directed project.
Projects will focus on a place-based problem to be solved, a solution to make something better/a new innovation, or an inquiry question to answer. Students spend this block of time each morning conducting age-appropriate research, hands-on experiments, and developing their project. The Scientific Method will be utilized, in addition to the Socratic Method of questioning to encourage the students to drive down to the answer for themselves. Projects can be conducted independently or in small groups if similar interests overlap. Projects can move between indoor and outdoor spaces, again depending on the nature of the inquiry. During Project Time, the teachers meet with the students to facilitate next steps of their project, to assist in the documentation of each student's Independent Investigation, and to develop the level of inquiry.
Documentation of the project will also happen during this time and be creatively designed by the individual student or student group. Technology, in addition to the school library, will be utilized to support learning and documentation of the project, which may include the use of a computer, a graphics tablet, trail cams, projector, a scanner, and/or printer.
Each project culminates in a Learning Expo at the end of the season to highlight the student's academic learning and personal achievement. Parents are cordially invited to the Expo. Students will complete a personal evaluation at the end of each project.
Also fueling our Lower and Middle Schoolers passion for community service and civic engagement is their participation in WE Schools, a global community of changemakers. Twice a week, students have access to online activities and resources empowering them to address social issues that they feel strongly about while "building the key social and emotional skills to be future-ready, confident global citizens."
Other weekly experiences to support the creative spirits of our middle schoolers include regular classes in the creative arts, both Music & Performing Arts and Visual Arts in the Studio. And, of course our week together would not be complete without a session of Forest School when students in Kindergarten - 8th grade, along with all of their regular teachers, head to the woods for learning, building, observation, mindfulness, discovery, and camaraderie.
The Bears return from Lunch to their 'chill' classroom, pull out their personal journals to reflect on their learning across the curriculum, from their morning studies, projects, and social experiences. The last Core Skill block for the day is Humanities, which at the middle school level blends together literature study + cultural studies + discussion. We increase our word knowledge through explicit vocabulary work and read texts from multiple genres, including poetry, short story, historical and realistic fiction, and auto/biography. Each season, we select novels for class discussion that highlight one of three anchor standards that connect to our core school values- Community (Fall,) Independence (Winter,) Creativity (Spring) - and develop Essential Questions to guide our discussions and written responses of the events and character choices.
Rounding out the day is Closing Meeting, a time to reflect on the day and for each student to share his/her ‘Rose, Bud and Thorn,' a favorite moment, a least favorite moment, and hopes for the next day together.